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Dionysius of Alexandria, an ardent Antimontanist, whose influence on the Book rivals that of S. Irenæus, was at Alexandria about this time. He wrote in the middle of the third century. S. Athanasius calls him, “ Teacher of the Church."
Basil says that “ he was a man of canonical authority.” He was known subsequently as “ St. Denis the Great." He wrote two books called “ The Promises,” against the teaching of Nepos.
In the second book he enters into a discussion on the Revelation of John, where, in the introduction he makes mention of Nepos as follows:
“But they produce a certain work of Nepos upon which they lay great stress, as if he advanced things that are irrefragable, when he asserts that there will be an earthly reign of Christ. . . . When I was at Arsinoe, where, as you know, long since, this doctrine was afloat, so that schisms and apostacies of whole churches followed, after I had called the presbyters and teachers of the brethren in the villages, when those brethren had come who wished to be present, I exhorted them to examine the doctrine publicly. When they had produced this book as a kind of armour and impregnable fortress, I sat with them for three days, from morning till evening, attempting to refute what it contained” (Euseb. H. E. vii. 24).
Dionysius shows what injury Montanism was doing to the Church. He shows how it depended upon the misinterpretation of the Revelation of S. John, which was the real fortress on which Nepos rested his book. And he shows his own zeal and energy in opposing it. Presently we shall see that his line of argument was to undermine the authority of the Book by saying that it was not written by John the son of Zebedee, and that, therefore, it was not canonical. Consequently Chiliasm was based upon a work of no great authority, and could not stand against the other Scriptures.
The influence of Dionysius was so great that Montanism was declared heretical at the Synod of Iconium, in the year 253. His writings throw a very strong light upon the position of the Apocalypse in the minds of Churchmen, in, and before this time, especially in the East.
He says in the second book on “ Promises":
“But it is highly probable that Cerinthus, the same that established the heresy that bears his name, designedly affixed the name (of John) to his own forgery. For one of the doctrines that he taught was that Christ would have an earthly kingdom. And as he was a voluptuary, and altogether sensual, he conjectured that it would consist in those things that he craved in the gratification of appetite and lust, i.e., in eating and drinking and marrying, or in such things whereby he supposed these sensual pleasures might be
presented in more decent expressions ; viz., in festivals, sacrifices, and the slaying of victims ” (Euseb. H. E. iii. 28 and vii. 25).
He continues :
“For my part, I would not venture to set this book aside, as there are many brethren that value it much; but, having formed a conception of its subject as exceeding my capacity, I also consider it to contain a certain concealed and wonderful intimation in each particular. For, though I do not understand, yet I suspect that some deeper sense is wrapped up in the words, and these I do not measure and judge by my private reason; but allowing more to faith, I have regarded them as too lofty to be comprehended by me, and those things which I do not understand, I do not reject, but I wonder the more that I cannot comprehend. . . . For 'blessed,' says he, 'is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book, and I, John, who have seen and heard these things.' 'I do not, therefore, deny that he was called John, and that this was the writing of one John. And I agree that it was the work also of some holy and inspired man. But I would not easily agree that it was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, who is the author of the Gospel, and the General (Catholic) Epistle that bears his name" (H. E. vii. 25).
A little further he adds:
“But John never speaks as of himself (in the first person), nor as of another (in the third), but he that wrote the Apocalypse declares himself immediately in the beginning. : :
But neither in the second nor third Epistle ascribed to John (the Apostle), though they are only brief, is the name of John presented. But anonymously it is written, the presbyter. But the other did not consider it sufficient to name himself but once."
“That it is a John that wrote these things we must believe, since he says it, but what John it is, is uncertain. For he has not said that he was, as he often does in the Gospel, the beloved disciple of the Lord. ... I am of opinion that there were many of the same name with John the Apostle. . .. I think, therefore, that it was another one of those in Asia. For they say that there are two monuments at Ephesus, and that each bears the name of John. ... (Euseb. H. E. vii. 25).
In these passages Dionysius reveals the prejudice that is in his mind in dealing with the authorship of the Apocalypse. He does not deny its value. But he will not allow that it is written by S. John the Evangelist, because he will not have that great name used as a shield by Montanists or Millenarians.
Dionysius admits that the Book was not understood in his time, or by any writer before it. The Key was lost. The O.T. Hebrew references were not recognised as a cypher. On the contrary, the Book was disparaged on account of its peculiarly
O.T. style. The extent of the confusion may be measured by the fact that so great a man as Dionysius attributed the work to the Ebionite heretic, Cerinthus! The Revelation, as we shall see, insists repeatedly on the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and his equality with God, the Father Almighty.
Basing himself on Papias, who was supposed to have referred to two Johns, as co-existing at Ephesus, in Apostolic times, Dionysius argues that the Revelation was written by the second John, not the Evangelist. He strengthens his case by the mention of two tombs at Ephesus, each dedicated in the name of John.
It will appear, presently, that Papias did not say that there were two separate Johns, though he would have said so plainly if that was what he meant to say. For he laid himself out to be the collector of the Apostolic traditions of his time.
Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, throws some light upon this question of the two Johns.
Eusebius begins by saying, "There are said to be five books of Papias." He does not seem to have had any of the books " of Papias before him, since he does not specify any one of them. He relies, apparently, on S. Irenæus for his information about the works of Papias.
He quotes from Papias as follows :
“But I will not hesitate to record for thee, together with the interpretations, all the things which I once learned well from the Presbyters, and kept well in my memory, that so I may confirm their truth. For I took pleasure, not in those who are great talkers, as the multitude do, but in those who teach the truth; not in those who relate alien commandments, but in those who record such commandments as were given by the Lord to the faithful, and spring from the Truth itself. If, therefore, anyone came who had been a follower of the Presbyters, I would ask him about the words of the Presbyters; what Andrew, or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew, or any other of the disciples of the Lord. And as to the things which Ariston and
John the Presbyter,' the disciples of the Lord, say, for I did not think that the things which are contained in the books were as much use to me as what came from a living voice still remaining among us” (Euseb. H. E. iii. 39).
Eusebius comments on this as follows:
" Where it is also proper to observe that the name of John is twice mentioned. The former of which he mentions with Peter and James and Matthew, and the other apostles, evidently meaning the evangelists. But in a separate point of his discourse he ranks the other John with the rest not included in the number of apostles, and placing Ariston before him, he distinguishes him plainly by the
name of presbyter, so that it is here proved that the statement of those is true who assert there were two of the same name in Asia, that there are also two tombs at Ephesus, and that both are called John even to this day, which it is particularly necessary to observe. For it is probable that the second, if it be not allowed that it was the first, saw the revelation ascribed to St. John. And the same Papias, of whom we now speak, professes to have received the declarations of the apostles from those that were in company with them, and says also that he was a hearer of Ariston and the presbyter, John. For as he has often mentioned them by name, he also gives their statements in his own works” (Eusebius, H. E. iii. 39).
In addition to this comment Eusebius devotes a whole chapter of his History (vii. 25) to the “Apocalypse of John," in which he quotes Dionysius extensively against S. John's claim to the Revelation. In this chapter Eusebius repeats the remark about the two Johannine tombs at Ephesus, quoted above. “For they say there are two monuments at Ephesus, and that each bears the name of John." Eusebius, Bishop of Cæsarea, historian and traveller, many years after Dionysius, reintroduces the story of the two tombs, still as an on dit, and then claims that it is capable of being proved to be true, because Papias mentions a John by the name of “ John the Presbyter”; “placing Ariston before him he distinguishes him plainly by the name of Presbyter, so that it is here proved that the statement of those is true, who assert that there were two of the same name in Asia !”
It will be observed that neither Dionysius nor Eusebius furnishes any details in connection with their mention of the story of the two tombs at Ephesus; they do not enter into any historical discussion as to the origin or credibility of the legend, nor do they appear at all solicitous concerning its accuracy.
We have seen that Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, at the end of the second century, wrote that: “John, who rested upon the bosom of our Lord, is buried at Ephesus” (Euseb. v. 24). There does not seem to have been any question of two tombs or two Johns at Ephesus then, or Polycrates, writing of S. John's burial-place, would have been obliged to particularise. He wrote a letter "to Victor and the Church of Rome" about the proper time of the observance of Easter (Euseb. v. 24). Pope S. Victor succeeded S. Eleutherius in the Pontificate in the year 192 and died A.D. 202. Hence Polycrates stands as a witness half a century earlier than Dionysius.
Considering the unique position of S. John as the beloved Apostle of our Lord, one would expect his tomb to be well known and held in great reverence. We have seen that S. Augustine, S. Ephræem and S. Gregory, hand down a tradition that it was a
well-known shrine visited by pilgrims from "far countries” (p. 21). S. John was highly venerated by the Greeks, who call him the Divine Theologian. Justinian built a Basilica over his tomb. It is very remarkable that neither the Alogi, nor Caius, earlier writers than Dionysius, knew anything of the second John. They were obliged to attribute the Book to Cerinthus for want of any other putative author. So illusory is this other John, even in the mind of Dionysius, that he says that “it is highly probable that Cerinthus forged the name of John to his own work."
But Papias_goes on to make it quite clear that he meant S. John the Evangelist all through. It has been shown by Professor Drummond that Papias refers, in the first part of the above fragment, to the living voice of the Apostles, including the presbyter John, as handed down to him by their followers; and, in the second part, to the writings of Ariston and “ John the Presbyter."
It may be remarked, in passing, that Papias did not put the Apostles in the order of their rank, since he puts Andrew before Peter.
Papias knew that S. John, in his Epistles, described himself as the Presbyter. Eusebius notices, in this same chapter, that “Papias made use of testimonies from the first Epistle of John.” So that Papias had the writings of S. John before him, as well as the recollection or tradition of his living voice, and was comparing them together.
S. John's two minor Epistles begin : “ The Presbyter to the elect lady and her children,” “The Presbyter to the dearly beloved Gaius." The Presbyter was evidently the title by which he was commonly known. “John the Presbyter,” or “the Presbyter John,” would point to him, and to him only.
But there is another fragment from Papias in this same thirteenth chapter of Eusebius. It reads as if it were a part broken off from the first. It is this:
“ And John the Presbyter' also said this : Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not, however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but, as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instructions as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord's discourses; wherefore Mark has not erred in anything by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by anything that he heard, or to state anything falsely in these accounts!'” (Eusebius, H. E. iii. 39).
Here we have " John the Presbyter,” according to Papias, passing judgment in the most authoritative way possible on the